2 of Chicago's chefs 'best in America'

CHICAGO There's usually one from Chicago. But this year, there are two.

The Food and Wine "best new chef" designation has a pretty good track record in Chicago. Past recipients now head kitchens at Topolobampo, Blackbird, Tru, Gabriel's and Alinea. Not only do these honorees grace the cover of a prestigious food magazine, they also get to fly to Aspen in June to cook at a major industry event for hundreds of people. Both of this year's local winners are pretty excited.

Giuseppe Tentori is in some pretty good company. Just named by Food & Wine Magazine as one of America's best new chefs, his employer - Boka - is sure to bask in the newfound spotlight.

"It can be hard to get your head around; I mean, a single dish can have 11 different ingredients in it, which sounds a little bit crazy and you think, 'How can that many things go together?' But somehow it does," said Chris Quinlan, Food & Wine Magazine.

She means dishes like a first course of baby octopus: what begins innocently enough as a bed of celery, potatoes and barbequed eel, quickly turns into mussels set upon yogurt-horseradish creme, plus crunchy apples and fennel, and finally, the octopus, ramped up with a bit of orange and then basil oil.

"There's going to be higher expectation when people, they come here, the restaurant now, because we are a neighbor, comfortable restaurant and I tell everybody the food is simple, but there is a little twist here and there," said Tentor.

Like when he places two giant diver sea scallops onto a bed of pea-wasabi sauce, then citrusy grapefruit, crunchy lotus root and earthy hijiki - black seaweed with a hint of garlic.

In the West Loop, Koren Grieveson is Chicago's other recipient of this year's honor. Her five-year reign at Avec has completely altered the concept of upscale wine bar fare across the country.

"It's some traditional dishes but it's always sort of a unique twist or a slightly different flavor profile on it that Koren really adds to that, which we just thought was great," said Quinlan.

House-made duck sausage arrives atop roasted mushrooms, green grapes and pickled onions as well as basil-flecked couscous. Pizza here means a base of homemade dough slathered with fava beans, dotted with smoked sardines and then topped with peppery arugula and a barely-cracked egg.

"Either you get it or you don't. It's communal seating, it's mixing wines, hence the name Avec, with friends, with food, with wine, with strangers. It's comfort food, but hopefully with balance, flavor balance, and a talented staff to put it out in a correct manner and not mingle flavors," said Grieveson.

But when you mingle the best of Spain, Portugal and Italy, it's hard not to be delicious. The magazine editors, meanwhile, are betting this year's crop of "best new" chefs will be around for some time.

"Yeah, we really expect to see a lot of great things come from them," said Quintan.

Tentori and Grieveson will appear in the July issue of Food and Wine. Better check out Boka and Avec soon as both restaurants are likely to get swamped after the national spotlight shines on them.

Chicago's 2008 "Best New Chefs" from Food & Wine Magazine:

Giuseppe Tentori
1729 N. Halsted St.

Koren Grieveson
615 W. Randolph St.

Other Chicago chefs who've won the award in the past 20 years:

Rick Bayless - 1988
Jean Joho - 1989
Kevin Shikami - 1991
Gabriel Viti - 1991
Gale Gand - 1994
Rick Tramonto - 1994
Paul Kahan - 1999
Takashi Yagihashi - 2000 (not working in Chicago at the time)
Ted Cizma - 2000
Kelly Courtney - 2001
Sandro Gamba - 2001
Grant Achatz - 2002
Bruce Sherman - 2003
Graham Elliot Bowles - 2004 (not working in Chicago at the time)
Michel Carlson - 2006
Paul Virant - 2007
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